IV. Effective public debate
For public debate In this document and in Article 28 of the Oviedo Convention the overarching concept of ‘public debate’ is used to describe discursive interactions in the public sphere (that is, not in a professional context) through which individuals and groups may identify, explore and resolve their different interests in matters that affect (or potentially affect) them all. to be effective, it should be meaningful and valuable for, as well as respectful of, all those involved. Participants Public authorities, experts and citizens all may be regarded as participants in a public engagement activity or debate. should recognise that they have had a fair opportunity to be heard and that their contribution has been considered even if they do not agree with any conclusion that may have been reached as a result of the process.
Public debate is a two-way process of communication. The nature of the exchange – what is communicated, by whom, to whom – may differ, and any public debate activity An organised activity, delimited in scope, intended to stimulate and to attend to public debate on a specific theme in the expectation that it will inform or influence policy development or governance. will very likely involve multiple kinds of exchange.
This section is about how to secure and improve the quality of public debate activities. The quality is related to, but distinct from, any judgement about whether the process is appropriate to the purpose or situation (see previous section) or how well the outcome meets the expectations of its initiators or participants (see next section).
Effective public debate provides individuals and groups with access to public life in a way that can stimulate interest and create opportunities for empowerment. It can help to foster trust among citizens A natural person subject to the laws and policies of a state and enjoying legal rights protected by that state. In compound terms such as ‘citizens’ assembly’, for example, the meaning of ‘citizen’ is broader than just those having nationality or entitled to vote in that state., and between citizens and government or public authorities. Ineffective public debate activities may not merely fail to produce these effects but risk giving rise to their opposites: disinterest, mutual suspicion and, ultimately, a sense of alienation from public life.
The effectiveness of public debate activities can be increased by attention to principles of design and conduct.
Effective public debate activities foster empowerment, and trust among citizens and between citizens and government or public authorities.